Tuesday, June 22, 2010

School may be out, but Jarrett Krosoczka's LUNCH LADY is in!

Every hero has their choice of weapon for fighting evil all over this giant blue marble. From Batarangs, Adamantium claws, a golden lasso, heat vision eyes and a spatchula. Wait, what? A spatchula? You heard that right. Not only did we see Bruce Wayne return from the dead and Robert Downey Jr. relaunch into the stratosphere in Iron Man 2. The literary world was given a heroic size tater-tot smackdown in the latest release of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series. I'm talking about Jarrett J. Krosoczka's LL4 or to the lay person Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jarret at the LA Times Festival of Books and with a little greasing of the pan I was fortunate enough to catch him for a few words during his super(hero) busy schedule. So grab a large spoon and let's dig in.

What brought you to writing for children?

Jarrett Krosoczka: I just always loved to tell stories with words and pictures. I also worked with kids at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for many summers, so that certainly influenced me to write for a younger set, too.

Can you talk to me about your writing process? Are you a jam through the first draft type? Or work through it with an eagle eye perfectionist type?

JK: The way it tends to work for me is this—I get an idea, so I immediately open my sketchbook and draw the character. From there, I start making story notes in-between my sketches. I attempt to map out the story (if inspiration is cooperating) by creating a story mountain (beginning, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution.) Next, I make page after page of story notes, in the order I imagine them happening. Then, I make thumbnails of all the pages I have to tell the story. (In a picture book I tend to have 32 pages, in my Lunch Lady graphic novels, 96 pages.) I try to figure out what event will happen on what page. After that, I write a manuscript and then make rough pencil sketches of the illustrations.

But that stage from initial idea to a fleshed out manuscript with thumbnails? If inspiration doesn’t cooperate, that could take years!

Do you have a writing "ritual" that has to happen before putting the words to paper? (reading a certain book, watching a certain movie, loads of research, drinking chocolate milk through your nose)

JK: I’ve learned that the best course of action is to just live my life and pay attention to the world around me. Inspiration will hit when I least expect it. (And if I were to just sit at my desk, staring at a blank piece of paper, waiting for an idea—I probably wouldn’t have any books published.)

I found myself laughing out loud at so many of the moments in The Lunch Lady books. What is the most important aspect - outside of character - for you when writing stories like Cyborg Substitute, League of Librarians, etc?

JK: Aw, thanks! Well, you took my answer! The biggest driving force in writing each Lunch Lady book is figuring out who the villain will be. But I also place a high importance on the pacing of the story. I make an effort to not have the major beats of each story fall on the same page in each book. Sometimes my readers are in on the villain’s identity, sometimes it’s a surprise to them.

I'm a HUGE comic book fan and I am very excited to see that graphic novels are blossoming in the young adult/middle grade reader world with stories outside of the Marvel and DC Universe. What made you want to write this story in this format? Was it always intended to be a gn/comic?

JK: As am I! The initial thing that would become the Lunch Lady books was actually a picture book about kids who debated what their lunch ladies did after school. One kid thought that maybe they were spies and that quickly became the more interesting story to tell, but it no longer fit into the format of a picture book. I tried writing it as a chapter book, but that format wasn’t visual enough for the humor I wanted to use. I even put together a pitch of Lunch Lady as an animated TV show, but when I realized that I would relinquish all rights and the story may not even end up being about a lunch lady, I backed off, determined to find the right format for my story. Not too soon after that, I contributed a piece to Jon Scieszka’s Guys Write for Guys Read.

I furthered the adventures of one of my childhood comic book heroes. I fell back in love with telling stories in the comic book format and realized that it would be perfect for the story that I had about a crime fighting lunch lady. (And the timeline for all of that? 2001-2005.) 
What storylines did you read/are you reading? 

JK: I have boxes of Batman, X-Men and Spiderman books from my teenage years. I was into monthly comics when the X-Men split into the blue and gold teams and when Spawn and Image debuted.

And now? I love the Scott Pilgrim series, The Secret Science Alliance by Eleanor Davis, Monkey vs. Robot by James Kolchalka, Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, Anything by Gipi, and for memoirs - anything by Jeffrey Brown, Blankets by Craig Thompson, and Stitches by David Small.

Can you tell us a little bit about the recent release of Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown?

JK: In LL4, Lunch Lady and Betty look forward to a few weeks of summer camp. They’ll be able to just serve food, not worry about any shenanigans. But Hector, Terrence and Dee are at camp, so you know they’ll be sticking their noses into something. The legend of the camp swamp monster puts an end to any outdoor tranquility our heroes were looking forward to.

What authors/books inspired you to become a writer?

JK: My favorite books as a child were:
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
The Fudge series by Judy Blume
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Bunnicula by James Howe

I’ve had the honor of meeting Mr. Howe and Ms. Blume, Ms. Cleary is my Facebook friend and perhaps someday I will jump into a time machine to meet Mr. Dahl.

I'm with you on the time machine trip to meet Mr. Dahl! He is one of my absolute favorites and huge inspiration to me. 

What mistake do you feel many first time writers make when putting together their first book?

JK: I would say the biggest mistake would be to think that the book will automatically find an audience. I tour (and have since the beginning) quite a bit, visiting schools, libraries and stores and attending conferences and literary festivals. A great online presence is important, but warn shoes and frequent flier miles still matter.

If you're not an illustrator but really want to write graphic novels/comics, what advice can you give those of us wanting to write them?

JK: Just write your story. Just as in picture books, if the publisher really likes your manuscript, they would match you with an illustrator.

Is it hard to sell a comic story without the illustrations?

JK: I don’t know, I’ve never tried. But I can say that art can quickly grab someone’s attention more than words can. I broke into the market with my promotional postcards featuring my art. I figured that even if the editors were throwing away my postcards, they’d have to look at the art on the way to the waste basket.

If you could be any character from literature, who would you be and why?

JK: Anne of Green Gables. She led a good, long life.

I want to thank Jarrett for checking into the Asylum for a spell during his awesome blog tour. It has been an honor to host him here and I can truly say how wonderfully nice he is (I'm not bias because our daughters share the same first name). I look forward to reading his stories and I hope there will be many more to come. To learn more about Jarrett, check out his website here - Studio JJK.

To follow Jarrett on his next stop of the blog tour, please stop by Graphic Novel Reporter tomorrow!

You can also check out the kick off to Jarrett's blog tour here at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.


  1. I just found you from Bree's blog--great interview and I love the name Literary Asylum. :)

  2. That was a great interview! I've never heard of the lunch lady series, but now I'm going to read them! Thanks.